A few weeks ago, Cathy the Gastronomer was in London for a short stop before her big trip to France with her husband and mother and we arranged to meet at Maltby Street for St John’s vanilla custard filled doughnuts. We also arranged to meet the next day for lunch at The Mall Tavern – it was a Sunday and I convinced them that they needed a proper roast lunch! It would be a first visit to this pub for all of us.

We were seated in the bar area – every table available had been booked up. Our waitress was efficient but quite gruff while we were ordering. We refused to let this ruin our meal though and started cooing over the cute tea towel napkins at each place.

The slightly disturbingly named Cow Pie (£14.50) came out looking glorious. Crisp golden brown pastry topped an excellent beef and ale filling. And in the centre of that pie was a big marrow bone whose marrow had been scooped out, mixed with garlicky, herby breadcrumbs and then stuffed back in – it was fabulous.

Cow Pie

A Chicken Kyiv (£14.50) came out looking marvellously spherical and sat on top of a potato rosti and some slaw. And yes, as expected, a lot of delicious garlic butter came gooshing out when we cut into it – I’m such a sucker for a good chicken kiev.

Chicken Kyiv

The roast dinners were very good but to me, still not a patch on the two previous dishes. The Roast Beef (£15.00) was flavourful and was a generous serving (4-5 good slices) with lots of potatoes, carrots, cabbage and a good Yorkshire pudding.

Roast Beef

The Roast Pork Loin (£15.00) had come recommended by our waitress and the loin was indeed tender. It was very good and was perhaps even better than the beef that day. Both roast dinners came with the appropriate sauces (horseradish and apple for our two roasts) and plenty of gravy.

Roast Pork Loin

Our waitress very kindly packed up the leftovers for us and we set to sharing just one dessert between us (we couldn’t handle any more). It had to be the restaurant’s signature Arctic Rolls (£6.50) – slices of ice cream covered in a thin layer of sponge cake – and we could choose three flavours of the ones available. We chose the Mango Lassi, Original and Tart Lemonade Tart. Mango tasted very much of alphonso mangoes, the original was vanilla ice cream with raspberry jam, and tart lemonade tart was full of the flavour of delicious bitter peel.

Arctic Rolls

Not sure why but by the end of the meal, our waitress seemed to have warmed to us and we even got a bit of a smile. And phew, I’m glad that Cathy did enjoy the meal! Bookings are essential on a Sunday afternoon.

The Mall Tavern
71-73 Palace Gardens Terrace
Notting Hill Gate
London W8 4RU

Mall Tavern on Urbanspoon

When asked where we could meet outside of London for a meal, I suggested The Sportsman at Seasalter, Kent, a pub/restaurant I’ve been wanting to visit for ages, to my friend. The date was duly set and the restaurant booked (though not far ahead enough to order their famous tasting menu) and off we went recently for a lunch by the sea. I was very lucky that my friends had a vehicle to take us there – it’s only about an hour’s drive out of London. Otherwise, it would have been a train to Whitstable and then a taxi to the restaurant…or should I say pub? There’s nothing on its exterior that would give any indication of the delicious food they serve inside. It really looked like any other pub along the narrow, winding road – well, perhaps apart from the number of cars parked outside.

The Sportsman

Inside it does still look like most pubs, albeit a pub with quite a bit of seating for dining. We were welcomed at the bar by the very kind Phil Harris, one of two brothers who own the place (his brother Steve was in the kitchen along with head chef Dan Flavell). As a bit of a geek myself, it was fascinating to learn that Phil’s hobby is building computers that play chess as evinced by one of the trompe l’oeil paintings in the conservatory and the large rook piece used to hold open the front door to let the breeze in.

At The Sportsman, unlike many pubs, almost all the meat and produce is sourced locally and their menu changes daily based on what is available. It’s certainly quite the place to visit if you enjoy your food as the many reviews it’s got signifies. If you’re curious to see them, I’ve uploaded the a la carte and dessert menus for that day onto Flickr.

Soon after we sat down, homemade bread and butter were brought out, along with some delicious, plump, green olives. The focaccia style bread was studded with caramelised onions and the brown sourdough had the most amazing crust but our favourite was the dark brown soda bread that had a sweet maltiness from the addition of molasses. Absolutely gorgeous stuff and I’m still thinking about it. We tried our best not to fill up on that bread.

Bread, Butter and Olives

To start, I had to try their Slip Sole Grilled in Seaweed Butter, a dish I’d heard lots about. It was exactly what it was and its preparation highlighted the freshness of the fish and well, the deliciousness of the butter. So good, so tender, so I want more please.

Slip Sole Grilled in Seaweed Butter

My friend tried their Chilled Beetroot Soup which looked absolutely beautiful and tasted absolutely stunning. Again, simple but very well executed. (If all beetroot preparations tasted like this, I might be more of a fan.)

Chilled Beetroot Soup

I sought Phil’s opinion on what I should have for my main course and he suggested the Roast Belly of Monkshill Farm Pork with Crackling and Apple Sauce. Yes, oh yes, I do like me some pork belly and this was amazing. The top of the tender belly had the finest piece of crackling I’d ever had in a restaurant. Again, this was seemingly so simple but Phil then told us that they confit their pork belly in goose fat…. so yeah, not so simple really! And the apple sauce too: I was scraping that little potful clean. (Apologies, we started tucking into our main courses before I remembered to take a photo!)

Roast Belly of Monkshill Farm Pork with Crackling and Apple Sauce

It was the Crispy Duck, Smoked Chilli Salsa and Sour Cream for my friend. He thoroughly enjoyed it! I had a bit of a taste and it was indeed delicious with the most fabulous looking roast potatoes.

Crispy Duck, Smoked Chilli Salsa and Sour Cream

Again with Phil’s recommendation, we split a Jasmine Tea Junket, Raspberries and Flapjack Crumbs for dessert. I knew a junket was set milk and actually, of all the desserts listed, this was the only one I didn’t get particularly excited about when reading its description. But still, gotta try everything once, right? I’m glad I did; this junket was a wibbly wobbly treat. It wasn’t too sweet nor too milky and was infused with a lovely jasmine tea flavour. The flapjack crumbs on top gave it a lovely textural contrast and the raspberries added a sweet and sour hit. It was a beautiful dessert.

Jasmine Tea Junket, Raspberries and Flapjack Crumbs

After the fabulous lunch, we did explore the immediate surrounding area (lots of grassy marshland) and found it to be perfect for a post-lunch walk (well, apart from the fact that we had to go a little further on down the road to gain access to the beach).

Row

Beach

I’ve got to get back there with Blai one day and we definitely need to try their tasting menu. And from what Phil’s told me, I have to aim for autumn when the pears are in season (Well, he didn’t lead me astray that day!).

The Sportsman
Faversham Road
Seasalter
Whitstable
Kent CT5 4BP

Sportsman on Urbanspoon

Last Thursday, The Skinny Bib met Ann, the Gourmet Traveller and me at The Heron near Edgware Road to eat excellent Thai food. On first glance, this pub looked like any old man’s boozer but on closer inspection, there’s a menu of Thai food pasted next to the door. But this menu of traditional favourites was not what we were here for – we were heading downstairs, where the writing on the menu is Thai and so are the customers. Thank goodness for The Skinny Bib – he took charge of ordering and I think we did a pretty good job sampling what they had to offer!

I arrived late and so examined the room after I’d settled into my seat. The restaurant is tiny (I reckon it can seat 20 people) and is festooned with lights and a disco ball. And you can’t miss the two large flat screen TVs constantly playing Thai music videos. Karaoke is available while you eat but you’d be sharing your voice with the entire room; we weren’t regaled with any singing that night but do keep in mind that you might be serenaded during your meal.

First of our dishes to arrive was a suki ta lay haeng, a dry seafood suki yaki. This was our only noodle dish, a dry version of the Thai version of the original Japanese dish. Mung bean vermicelli was stir fried with seafood in a tangy sauce. It was very moreish.

Dry Seafood Suki Yaki

A yum pla duk fuu, or crispy catfish salad, was incredible – if just presented with it, you’d be hard pressed to guess it was fish. The catfish had been transformed into a light crispy cloud and was topped with fried peanuts, shallots and fresh coriander. With the hot and sweet sauce on the side, this was just fantastic.

Crispy Catfish Salad

I thought I’d tried the full colour spectrum of Thai curries – green, red, yellow – but had no idea that an orange one existed! The kaeng som goong cha om tod kai, a sour orange curry with prawns and pieces of omelette with cha om, a new vegetable to me. This was highly addictive and I found myself drinking the thin but flavourful curry straight up after all the goodies had been fished out. If you’re familiar with a jungle curry, this was slightly thicker and didn’t have any coconut milk in it.

Sour Orange Curry with Prawns and Omelette

A plate of kai yiew mar kra pow krob was a mixture of fried century eggs and minced pork. We were told that there should be crispy holy basil on top but they had run out. It was still good without it though – I’d never come across fried century eggs before!

Fried Century Eggs and Minced Pork

I was particularly excited to try the sai oua, a smoky Northern Thai pork sausage, as I was looking for a particular sausage I’d had in Chiang Mai. While this one wasn’t exactly the same, it was still delicious with all its chilli and spices and smokiness. Did I mention that chilli? This was probably the hottest dish on the table!

Smoky Northern Thai Pork Sausage

A larb moo, a minced pork salad, was quite mild in comparison to the other dishes.

Pork Larb

Another salad – this time a som tam with large poached prawns scattered in between the shreds of green papaya. By default, everything seems to be spiced in the Thai way – hot! I munched on a chilli from the som tam and was in tears for a bit.

Som Tam with Prawns

A plate of stir fried kai lan with oyster didn’t escape the chillies either – large sliced red ones had been stir fried with them.

Kai Lan with Oyster Sauce and Chillies

For the four of us, we had these eight dishes, both sticky and steamed rice, and a large bottle of water and with service it came to £25 each. We certainly pushed the boat out with the number of dishes we had – I’d say we overdid it by 2 dishes! But how delicious it all was and I will certainly return, especially to explore the one dish meals on the menu. Thank you again, Skinny Bib! He is hoping to translate the menu soon – watch his blog post for this.

The Heron
Norfolk Crescent
London W2 2DN

Heron on Urbanspoon

On our first weekend back from Barcelona, you would think that we’d go off in search of another cuisine other than Catalan or Spanish. But one Sunday morning, we wanted to go out for lunch at a place we hadn’t tried before (ok, that was my requirement), a place where we could relax over a nice meal, a place that wasn’t too far away from home. We planned on heading to Chiswick and I remembered The Duke of Sussex, a pub next door to Le Vacherin. Their menu was always dotted with Spanish dishes, triggering my interest every time I passed it. And now I’d have my chance to try it!

We arrived at the pub just past noon that Sunday and it was a good thing too as we didn’t have a booking (it got pretty packed soon after). Many tables were booked but there were enough free that we had a choice of sitting in the bright and airy bar in front or the restaurant in the back. We opted for the front and got a table right by the large windows. Ah, it was lovely that day with blue sky and bright sun! We liked the look of the pub; my brother liked the selection of ales available. I opted for my usual pub drink: Coca Cola (regular readers of this blog probably know that I’m not great with alcohol!).

It took us a while to select our dishes but once ordered, it took an even longer while for the food to arrive. I suppose we weren’t in a rush as it was a relaxing Sunday afternoon but my stomach was growling! It turned out they were preparing everything to come almost at once. We started with a few fried bits and pieces. The salt cod fritters (£5.50) were lovely and light though Blai found a large bone in one of them. Ham croquetas (£5.50) were huge, of the requisite creaminess, and weren’t bad at all.

Salt Cod Fritters

Ham Croquetas

The chorizo con huevos (£6.25) came looking very different from how I expected; this is not necessarily a bad thing. Here the eggs had been beaten and cooked together with slices of chorizo and chopped vegetables. However, this dish was a bit of a letdown as we could taste undercooked onion pieces in the vegetables.

Chorizo con Huevos

Somehow we settled on trying two of their rice dishes – they both did sound gorgeous! The Catalan rice w/ meatballs and prawns (£13.50) was a soupy rice dish that almost resembled a stew. Sloppy, soupy rice dishes like this exist in Catalunya but this one had the unfamiliar flavour of paprika. Unfortunately, it was also too soupy and required more rice but overall, it was a delicious dish with tasty meatballs and extremely fresh prawns. (But the kitchen really does need to look at its preparation – I nearly cracked a tooth on a nubbin of bone in my meatball.)

Catalan Rice w/ Meatballs and Prawns

The Roast cod, black rice, aioli (£13.50) was excellent and nothing could be faulted with it. The cod was flaked beautifully at the touch of a fork while the black rice left rings of squid ink around our mouths as we shovelled it in along with the creamy aioli.

Roast Cod, Black Rice, Aioli

There was still a little room for dessert and we chose the only sweet on the menu that wasn’t British: the crema catalana (£5.25). It was very good but could have been a little bit bigger!

Crema Catalana

There are definitely a few things that need to be ironed out in the kitchen but overall, it’s not a bad place for a meal or a drink and I’d probably return since I live close by; however, I doubt I’d cross town just to eat there – so it’s a good local instead (I hear they have a good garden for the summer) and a very pleasant place to while away the time if you happen to be in the area. There was a man noshing on a bowl of excellent looking chips with aioli at the bar and I’ve already decided I’ll be having that next time! If Spanish food isn’t your thing, there are a number of British dishes also available; the boys at a neighbouring table were tucking into lovely looking Sunday roasts.

The Duke of Sussex
75 South Parade
Chiswick
London W4 5LF

Duke of Sussex on Urbanspoon

There’s something wonderfully primal about tucking into a whole roast beast. Last Tuesday, about 40 or so food bloggers and twitterers gathered in the back garden of The Red Lion and Sun in Highgate to do just that, partake in a big hog roast, put on by owner Heath and chef Vincent.

Scratchings with Applesauce

The Roast Hog

The Head

The Spread

My First Plate

Carcass

Apart from the moist and tender pork, there were salads galore: green, potato, bean, tomato, and coleslaw, as well as baps and foccacia. It was pretty much all you can eat – a 75 kg Gloucestershire Old Spot pig does feed many!

Thanks again, Lizzie, for organising the meat-up! And you can organise one for you and your mates too – there’s some information and contact details on their website below. Do also check out Ibzo’s post on their spit-roast lamb.

All my photos from the night can be found in this Flickr photoset.

The Red Lion and Sun
25 North Road
Highgate
London N6 4BE